The Texas Education Agency has revised its earlier guidance and is now allowing school districts to delay the return to face-to-face instruction for up to eight weeks.
“We’ve crafted a framework so that schools can open safely, subject to a variety of adjustments to keep our staff and our students safe,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said Friday in a video message to parents and teachers.
The state’s new framework allows school districts to delay a return to the classroom for four weeks from their start date, with an additional four week delay upon TEA board approval.
“We know that there are parents who are nervous and who want to keep their children home, and for that we will support them with remote instruction a hundred percent of the way,” said Morath. “We also know that the on-campus instructional environment is invaluable — that a child’s academic and social growth flourishes in a Texas public school.”
Parents still have the option of choosing to keep their kids at home for online instruction for an entire grading period. If the school they are zoned to does not offer continuing distance learning, parents can transfer their students to a district that does have it.
During the transition period, school districts are required to ensure all students have access to the tools they need for online learning. Any family without Internet access or other tools for distance learning at home must be given access to on-campus instruction.
In tandem with the new guidance from the TEA, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state is allocating $200 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding for the purchase and distribution of hot spots, routers and more for students who lack digital access.
“As school districts delay the start of in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year due to COVID-19, it is essential that we work to provide Texas students with the devices they need to connect and communicate online for classroom instruction,” said Abbott. “As we continue to combat COVID-19 in Texas, we are committed to providing reliable and effective solutions that will help students academically succeed while protecting public health.”
Additional changes provide school systems with the ability to convert high schools — with school board approval — to a full-time hybrid model once students have transitioned back to campus instruction. The hybrid model would allow students to receive a portion of their instruction on-campus and a portion of their instruction remotely at home.
Local school boards for districts in areas with high levels of community spread also retain the flexibility to delay the start of the school year.
One week prior to the start of on-campus activities and instruction, school systems must post for parents and the general public a summary of the plan they will follow to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The TEA is providing guidance in that area but leaving most of those decisions to the local level.
The TEA had previously threatened to cut funding for school districts that didn’t get kids back in the classroom. There was serious concern that putting students back at school at the same time Texas is experiencing record-setting COVID-19 spread would be unsafe and only contribute to more cases. Many school districts had already bypassed the state and decided to keep classrooms closed at least until after Labor Day. Some are opting to stay virtual for the entire first semester.